Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

Scotland has some of the most beautiful and diverse marine ecosystems in the world. Marine Scotland is committed to protecting and enhancing these amazing ecosystems to ensure they are safeguarded for future generations to enjoy.  Protected areas are used to ensure protection of some of the most vulnerable species and habitats.  

The Scottish MPA network (also shown on this map) includes sites for nature conservation, protection of biodiversity, demonstrating sustainable management, and protecting our heritage. In total the network covers approximately 22% of our seas and comprises:

  • 217 sites for nature conservation protecting a broad range of habitats and species that are found in our seas.  Habitats range from rocky shores and sea caves at the coastline to deep sea habitats such as coral gardens and Lophelia pertusa.  Species range from harbour porpoise to common skate to puffins.

  • 5 other area based measures which protect species such as sandeels and blue ling, as well as vulnerable marine ecosystems.

  • 1 Demonstration and Research MPA around Fair Isle to investigate the factors affecting seabird populations demonstrate the socio-economic benefits of the marine environment.

  • 8 Historic MPAs to preserve sites of historical importance around the Scottish coast.

In December 2018 Scottish Ministers laid a report in the Scottish Parliament describing progress with implementing the MPA network.

Possible Marine Protected Areas (pMPA)


Four possible MPAs (pMPAs) in inshore waters were out for consultation from 7 June 2019 to  30 August 2019. Scottish Natural Heritage have provided advice to Scottish Ministers on the MPA proposals in order to complete the MPA network. These sites, in addition to the 31 Nature Conservation MPAs already designated, will fulfil Scottish Ministers duties under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, as well as furthering our contribution as part of the UK network to the OSPAR North-east Atlantic MPA network. You can find details and published responses on the the consultation hub.

North-east Lewis pMPA:

North-east Lewis pMPA is the most northerly of the four pMPAs. The proposed protected features are Risso’s dolphins, sandeels, and geodiversity features. The site is at the north of the Risso’s dolphin range and represents an area where Risso’s dolphins are recorded in high numbers year-round. The site supports part of the west coast sandeel population, which is the preferred prey of many fish, seabirds, whales and dolphins.

Sea of the Hebrides pMPA:

Sea of the Hebrides pMPA is the largest of the four pMPAs. The proposed protected features are basking shark, minke whale, fronts and geodiversity features. Fronts are created by cool nutrient-rich water mixing with shallow warmer water. They are areas of high productivity and create feeding grounds for predators of all shapes and sizes. Minke whales are the smallest member of a family of whales called baleen whales, which feed by engulfing large volumes of water and sieving out through their baleen plates. Basking sharks are the second largest species of fish in world and feed solely on zooplankton.

Shiant East Bank pMPA:

Shiant East Bank pMPA is in the middle of the Minch, the sea which separates the Outer Hebrides from the Scottish mainland. The proposed protected features are circalittoral sands and mixed sediment communities, northern sea fan and sponge communities and shelf banks and mounds. The Shiant East Bank pMPA is made up of mosaics of sand and mixed sediment which support species such as worms, clams, brittlestars, crabs and starfish. Outcrops of volcanic rock provide habitat for filter feeders such as northern sea fans and sponges.

Southern Trench pMPA:

Southern Trench pMPA is the only one of the four pMPAs on the east coast. The proposed protected features are minke whale, burrowed mud, fronts and shelf deeps. Fronts in the Southern Trench are created by mixing of warm and cold waters, which creates an area of high productivity, attracting a number of predators to the area. Minke whales are attracted by the fish species brought to the area by the fronts, as well as the abundance of sandeels in the soft sands. The Southern Trench pMPA takes its name from the trench running parallel to the Moray coast. The trench is up to 250m deep and the soft mud on the floor are home to many species of mud-loving animals including Norway lobster and crabs.


We consulted on a the West of Scotland pMPA from 27 September to 31 December 2019. This consultation fulfilled a Programme for Government commitment to consult on a deep sea marine reserve.

If taken forward to designation, the site would be the biggest Marine Protected Area (MPA) located in national waters in the entire North-East Atlantic and underpinned by the powers in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

Featuring the deepest parts of Scotland’s Seas at over 2,500 metres, the site would safeguard some of the most vulnerable habitats and species on the planet, including deep sea sharks, coral gardens and a diversity of other fauna. 

It would provide protection to 14 vulnerable habitats and species, including the Leafscale gulper shark, Orange roughy and Portuguese dogfish. Ten of these habitats and species have been declared as being in decline and under threat in the North-east Atlantic under the OSPAR Convention.

If designated, the site would help meet our international commitments to protect the marine environment in the North-East Atlantic, as required under the Oslo and Paris Conventions (OSPAR Convention).

 2014 MPA Designation Orders

The Nature Conservation MPA network consists of 30 MPAs: 17 MPAs under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 in Scottish territorial waters and 13 MPAs under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 that have been recommended by Scottish Natural Heritage and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. These designations fulfil duties in both the the Marine (Scotland) Act and the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, as well as furthering commitments to form part of the wider UK contribution to the OSPAR North-East Atlantic MPA network.

Please note that three of the MPAs that were consulted upon as options and alternatives (South-east Fladen, Western Fladen, and South-west Sula Sgeir and Hebridean Slope) for representation of features in certain pMPAs have not been taken forward to designation, and therefore no longer carry policy protection.

A map that shows the new Nature Conservation MPAs is also available.

 Historic MPAs 

Marine Scotland works with Historic Environment Scotland to identify and designate Historic Marine Protected Areas (HMPAs).

HMPAs are designated in Scottish territorial waters (0-12 miles) under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 for the purpose of preserving marine historic assets of national importance. Historic MPAs are normally considered appropriate for protecting underwater heritage, for example a particularly significant historic shipwreck, remains relating to an important fleet anchorage, battle site or navigational hazard where multiple wrecks and other features exist.

 For more Information visit: Historic Environment Scotland or Scottish Natural heritage.

Inshore Marine Protected Areas and Special Areas of Conservation

30 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were designated in Scotland’s seas on the 24th July 2014; 17 of these MPAs fall under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 in inshore waters.

In line with EU legislation suitable management measures must be implemented at each site to conserve the protected features. The 17 inshore MPAs along with 22 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) have been split into 2 groups to allow for easier implementation of management measures. The SACs have been included as a review of current management measures was deemed to be necessary after reassessment of the EU Habitats Directive.

The sites were split generally on the basis of the presence of the most sensitive benthic habitats and species, irrespective of the designation type. Some sites with highly sensitive features are included in the 2nd phase because the location is subject to some form of existing management arrangement.

Information about regional management workshops held in 2014 is on the archive.

Developing fisheries management proposals

Scotland has 11 offshore Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) at present. Under Article 6 of the EU Habitats Directive member states are obliged to prevent deterioration of the protected feature(s) of the site(s). In addition there are 13 offshore MPAs, and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 requires management action to be taken to ensure that achievement of the conservation objectives is not hindered. These MPAs are considered necessary to comply with Article 13(4) of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Further information on the UK network of offshore protected areas along with a detailed map of the UK sites can be found on the JNCC website.

The Common Fisheries Policy permits vessels from other member states, and also third countries like Norway, to fish in Scottish waters. Therefore when fisheries management measures are required to protect offshore sites member states must submit a proposal for measures to the European Commission (EC). This process involves working with other member states who have a direct management interest to develop suitable management proposals.

The EC has issued guidance on the development of such measures. It sets out 11 information requirements which should be fulfilled in any application. These requirements guide the process.

Five offshore sites are already considered to be well managed from a fisheries perspective.

A proposal for Stanton Banks SAC has been developed as part of a pilot process and is now ready for formal negotiations with other member states.

Proposals for the other 18 sites were subject to consultation with member states and the advisory councils between September and November 2016.

Meetings with Member States and Advisory Councils to discuss the proposals were held on 20 and 27 October 2016 in Edinburgh. 

The proposals were also presented to the North Sea and North Western Waters Advisory Councils at their respective meetings in Spring 2017.   

Updated proposals for the other 18 sites were published in April 2017 and a request sent to other member states asking them to confirm that the proposals had sufficient information to proceed to the formal negotiation stage.

Offshore workshops 2016

Stakeholder workshops to discuss the proposals for the offshore MPA/SACs were held on 20 and 27 October 2016 in Edinburgh.

Representatives from EU Member States and the North Sea and North Western Waters Advisory Councils were present.

History of the development of proposals

The management measures for the offshore MPAs and SACs have been under development since 2013. Marine Scotland have engaged with both local stakeholders and representatives of other EU Member States at a number of workshops to discuss and develop the proposed measures.

Offshore proposals - April 2017

Development of these proposals began with workshops held in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Since then they have developed to meet the European Commission's information requirements.

Following consultation between September and November 2016 the proposals were updated. We requested that other member states confirm that the proposals had sufficient information to proceed to the formal negotiation stage.

The documents can be described as follows:

  • Proposal: this is the main body of the proposed joint recommendation
  • Proposal annexes: this forms part of the proposal but has been split to meet website upload limitation
  • Audit: this is the history of the proposals as they have developed
  • Measures: this is a text summary of the measures without the supporting information

On 20 June 2017 there was a meeting of the Scheveningen Group Article 11 experts in The Hague to discuss the North Sea proposal. The North Western Waters proposal was discussed on 21 June 2017 at a meeting of the North Western Waters Group Article 11 experts in London.

  • Presentations and proposal documents.

Offshore proposals - September 2017

Development of these proposals began with workshops held in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Since then they have developed to meet the European Commission's information requirements.

Following consultation and earlier publication in April 2017 the proposals have now been updated. We have requested that other member states confirm that the proposals had sufficient information to proceed to the formal negotiation stage.

We are now consulting other member states and the advisory councils to ascertain whether the proposals have sufficient information to become joint recommendations. As part of the process we will take into account views on the design of the specific management measures.

Demonstration and Research MPAs

The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 established the process by which third parties are able to propose Nature Conservation and Demonstration and Research (D&R) MPAs for inclusion in the Scottish network of MPAs. 

The criteria for D&R MPAs, along with the supplimentary guidance, can be found on the MPA Selection Guidelines page.

D&R MPAs may be an appropriate tool to develop new approaches to marine management, address issues through original research or consider the applicability of a management approach in a new area. Proposals will be assessed using the criteria in the MPA Guidelines published in 2011, including the level of support and why a D&R MPA is the most appropriate mechanism to use.

Marine Scotland does not currently have any D&R MPA proposals for consideration.

Fair Isle Demonstration & Research MPA Consultation

The Fair Isle Demonstration & Research MPA has now been designated and will come into force on 09 November 2016. This follows the consultation considering the proposal, which was proposed by Fair Isle Marine Environment and Tourism Initiative (FIMETI) during the process of developing the Scottish MPA network.

The consultation ran from 01 March to 26 May 2016.

Marine Scotland has undertaken a full assessment of the Fair Isle proposal against the MPA selection Guidelines, as well as an investigation into the estimated possible socio-economic effects of the successful designation. Fair Isle Marine Environment and Tourism Initiative also has further information and film on its website regarding the proposal.

More information: